High speed, poor print quality

High speed, poor print quality

At first look, the Lexmark E330 resembles the E232. It has the same black case and angular styling (reminding us of Darth Vader's mask) but it's faster than its predecessor and costs less to run.

On the other hand, it also costs nearly twice as much ($US399) up front.

The IDG Test Center timed text pages emerging from the E330 at a rapid 20.5 pages per minute. That makes it as fast as any small-office laser we have seen, and faster than many workgroup printers costing hundreds of dollars more.

Print speeds for graphics were outstanding, too, at 11.4 ppm.

Regrettably, though, the E330 doesn't improve on the E232's disappointing print quality. Our judges rated its printed text as dark and heavy, and it struggled to produce fully formed italics. The characters in closely spaced bold text clumped together, and the smallest fonts looked blotchy. Our line art sample showed some horizontal banding, and close parallel lines were so dark that they merged into a single, wide line. Our grayscale photo came out so dark that panelists couldn't make out any details, and the textures acquired annoying moire interference patterns.

Lexmark sells a high-yield toner cartridge for the E330, rated for 6000 pages (using the industry standard measure of 5 per cent page coverage).

This cartridge costs $US119 if you buy it through Lexmark's Return Program (and resist the temptation to refill it with cheap, third-party toner). When you factor in replacing the printer's $US62 photoconductor unit every 30,000 pages, each printed page costs you about $US02.2 - reasonable for a small-office laser. Out of the box, the E330 packs a 1500-page starter toner cartridge.

The drawer in the E330's base holds up to 250 sheets of paper, in sizes as large as legal. Up to 150 pages can collect face-down in the bin on top of the printer. Printing more than a few envelopes at a time is tedious because you have to feed thicker media individually through the manual bypass slot.

Fortunately, you can reduce the chance of jamming by folding down the rear paper exit to establish a flatter path through the printer. If you do lots of printing, or if you frequently switch between different types of paper, you can spend $US199 more for a second paper drawer that holds another 550 sheets.

We found the two-button control panel and the Windows printer driver easy to use. The software setup gives you the option of installing an additional Postscript driver.

Local information: Lexmark E 330

Conclusion: The eye-catching Lexmark E330 may cost less to run than its initially cheaper sibling, but its high speed doesn't make up for its lousy print quality.

It is distributed by Galas Electronics, HiTech Distribution, Ingram Micro, IT Wholesale, RDT Technologies, TodayTech

RRP: $805

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